Friday roundup: The news media are collectively losing their goddamn minds edition

It’s a full slate this week, so let’s do this!

Rhode Island house speaker now says he’ll okay $38m in PawSox stadium subsidies if he can make the city cover any state revenue shortfalls

If you’re a close follower of Rhode Island state politics — we’ve gotta watch something now that Roseanne has been canceled, right? — you’ll recall House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello as the guy who keeps declaring Pawtucket Red Sox stadium plans dead because the people of Rhode Island hate it. Though he’s also the guy who kept holding hearings on a stadium proposal anyway, and now he’s the guy who decided that giving $38 million to a minor-league sports team is just peachy so long as the money is capped there:

Mattiello’s plan — its fine print is still being written — will follow the contours of ballpark legislation passed by the Senate earlier this year, he told reporters Tuesday, but remove state backing from more than $80 million in proposed borrowing.

“I think the most important thing that we can say about it is, once we set up the framework, that there is no state guarantee,” Mattiello said. “The state of Rhode Island taxpayers will not be responsible for any of the debt associated with that project.”

The new plan goes like this: The stadium would still cost $83 million to build, which would be paid back by a combination of the team, state, and city. But the state’s share would be limited to tax money from a tax increment financing district around the stadium — in other words, increased property taxes would be kicked back to pay for the stadium construction instead of going into the state’s coffers like it normally would.

This would indeed solve one of the big problems with TIFs — that sometimes they don’t actually generate any revenue and local governments are left holding the bag — but not the more fundamental problem, which is that they often just cannibalize money that the public would be getting anyway, if, say, a new stadium means that a bunch of development gets built there instead of across town.

Anyway, with the state limiting its exposure under Mattiello’s plan, any TIF-related shortfall would have to be covered by … who would it have to be covered by, exactly?

“If revenue comes up short, the Pawtucket Redevelopment Agency will have to figure out how to deal with it,” Mattiello said.

Oh, excellent, so if the state can’t find enough taxpayers to pay its stadium bills, then city taxpayers will have to pick up the slack. I’m so glad that Rhode Island’s elected officials are there to be watchdogs of the public interest, aren’t you?

Friday roundup: Warriors rail stop turns pricey, West End stadium undead again, Montreal mayor meets with would-be Expos owners

Superbrief mode today:

  • Expanding light-rail service to the Golden State Warriors‘ new arena is now expected to cost at least $62 million, which is a lot for Muni Metro, though not for some other transit systems. The Warriors owners are kicking in $19 million, but the rest will be funded by tax money from the arena district, which may or may not be enough to cover the entire nut. Tim Redmond saw this coming.
  • F.C. Cincinnati owners are officially pivoting back to the West End stadium site that it had declared dead last month after not getting offered enough property-tax breaks on the land. How come? Team CEO Jeff Berding said of the other two options, Oakley is “not as close to the urban core as desired,” and the team couldn’t secure land in Newport, Kentucky. Sounds like the West End has the club over somewhat of a barrel, which it should be able to use to ensure the team pays full property taxes, at least, though some residents may be more concerned about keeping out a stadium entirely over fears it will further gentrify their neighborhood.
  • The mayor of Montreal is meeting today with an ownership group that wants to bring a new Expos MLB team back to town. “We don’t need a cent from the city of Montreal, but we need a little help,” prospective co-owner Stephen Bronfman said earlier this week; your guess is as good as mine what that actually means.
  • Minnesota taxpayers have spent $1.4 billion on new or renovated sports venues over the past 20 years, if anyone is counting.
  • The Pawtucket Red Sox‘ stadium demands continue to be stalled, if anyone is keeping track.
  • “A deputy in one of Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup host cities has claimed that a latest inspection by the world’s footballing body has neglected a missing column at a newly built stadium.” You’ve just got to read the whole Moscow Times article now, don’t you?

 

PawSox to RI: Approve stadium now, or big bad Worcester will force us to move there

So it turns out that when Rhode Island state house speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Monday that “the Senate bill [for $44 million in public spending on a Pawtucket Red Sox stadium] is dead in the state of the Rhode Island,” he literally just meant the Senate bill was dead; yesterday, Mattiello said the state house will still go ahead with hearings on the stadium plan, and could consider its own bill at some point.

Thus handed a lifeline, the PawSox owners immediately shaped it into a noose and put it around their own necks and declared that without immediate state aid, the team could be under threat for its life. And if that metaphor sounds a little overly Blazing Saddles-esque, no, seriously, listen to what veteran Rhode Island lobbyist–turned–PawSox spokesperson Guy Dufault said yesterday:

“We take Worcester very, very seriously,” Dufault said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Worcester is a viable alternative to the Providence metro area. We need to take that extraordinarily seriously. I think the people and the members of the House of Representatives have to take it that way because it’s real, it’s going to be viable, and I think it’s something we should be very concerned about.

“I feel a sense of urgency. I think if Worcester comes down within the next 30 days with something – it’s pretty easy to beat the other guy’s hand when the other guy has put his cards on the table.”

Back 20 years ago in the first edition of Field of Schemes, Joanna Cagan and I coined the term “non-threat threat” for the kind of “the last thing I would want would be for this team to have to move” statement that has become common among sports team owners wanting to strike fear into the populace without looking quite so much like supervillains with a death ray. (If hotlinks had been available in printed books in 1998, we might well have called it the paratrooper gambit.)

But this takes the non-threat threat to the next level, by denying even that it’s the team making the threat — no, the PawSox owners are “very concerned” that Worcester will swoop in with an offer they can’t refuse, and that would make them sad. Don’t force them to accept free money from some other suitor, Rhode Island, don’t you know you’re the one they really love!

Worcester, meanwhile, still hasn’t actually offered anything, at least not publicly, though city manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. has been meeting with PawSox execs this month. What he’s actually offering toward a new Worcester stadium, and how he feels about being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Rhode Island, he won’t say.

And that’s just how the PawSox owners undoubtedly like it, because it means no one can tell if they’re bluffing with their non-threat threats. It’s the same reason Amazon is telling cities bidding to be the home to its new second headquarters to shut up about what they’re offering — when you’re holding a bidding war, it’s in the interest of the seller to keep everyone in the dark about what other bidders are offering, in order to maximize the winner’s curse. You can’t do it without bidders willing to keep their mouths shut, though, and apparently Augustus has been sweet-talked into playing the role of silent bogeyman; it’s elected officials like him who are why we can’t have nice things.

 

 

RI house speaker kills PawSox subsidy bill again, for silly reason that everybody hates it

Ever since the Rhode Island state senate approved $44 million in state and city subsidies for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium a couple of weeks back, the big question has been how the bill would fare in the state house, which killed the last version of the bill. So how’s that going?

The plan to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox in Rhode Island is “dead,” according to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello...

“The Senate bill is dead in the state of the Rhode Island. Two-thirds of Rhode Islanders do not support it and therefore, the House will not support it,” Mattiello said.

That sounds pretty dead!

The current PawSox stadium funding plan, you’ll recall, involves the state putting up $26 million and the city $18 million toward an $83 million stadium; in return, the city would get $250,000 a year in naming rights fees and unspecified cash from a surcharge on premium tickets — which I can’t imagine would amount to all that much, since minor-league ticket buyers aren’t known for their eagerness to sit in luxury boxes. All this for a team that you could just up and buy for about $20 million. It is an awful deal, and those two-thirds of Rhode Island voters have good reason to hate it.

The only argument for the deal is hinted at in the source of the above quoted text, which is from the Worcester Telegram, which is covering the story because the PawSox owners have threatened to move to Worcester if they don’t get their way in Rhode Island. Worcester has done absolutely nothing to offer the PawSox a stadium or money for one, though, beyond hiring economist-for-hire Andy Zimbalist as a consultant (which Mattiello also did in Rhode Island, weirdly). So offering $44 million as an inducement to stay to a team whose threat of moving so far comes down to “maybe this is really more of a Shelbyville idea” would be the epitome of bidding against yourself. It would be totally reasonable negotiating for Mattiello to come back with “How about we only put up $10 million, or better yet, you actually pay us enough rent so the public can recoup all of its stadium debt?” and see what happens; we’ll see if that’s the route he goes.

Finally, I can’t leave out my absolute favorite part of the Telegram article:

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, PawSox supporters are going into the heart of Mattiello’s home district in Cranston on Tuesday to pitch their stadium-financing deal.

“You’re invited!″ said the mailer that arrived over the weekend at homes across skeptic Mattiello’s House District 15. “Learn more about the Ballpark at Slater Mill … and enjoy some Tommy’s Pizza.”

Locally sponsored stadium propaganda. Isn’t that just the best thing about minor-league baseball?

Friday roundup: A’s won’t give up on Laney, Isles could play “some” games at Coliseum, more!

Tons of stray news items this week, so let’s get right to them:

  • The Rhode Island state senate’s finance committee approved $44 million in spending by the state and city of Pawtucket for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, which is what everyone expected, because the real opposition is in the state house. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said that if the bill passes the Senate, “it will be assigned to the House Finance Committee and be given a public hearing,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but then, Mattiello has been saying consistently that his constituents hate this plan.
  • Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval said that the team owners have “identified three final locations” for a new stadium, and … they’re the same three sites the team announced more than a year ago, even after Laney College officials since took themselves out of the running. “We spent a lot of time getting it to three final sites, and those are the sites that are viable,” Kaval told reporters. Props for sticking to your convictions, I guess, but there’s a time to go to a Plan B, and it’s maybe after Plan A told you, “Get offa our lawn.”
  • The city of Liverpool is set to spend £280 million on a new stadium for Everton F.C., four years after saying no to a similar plan, but Mayor Joe Anderson defends the plan as a loan that the team will repay and more. The Guardian reports that “the city council could make £7m-a-year profit from interest charged on a loan of £280m over 25 years, plus extra revenue from business rates and related developments once the stadium is up and running” — which sounds good if the profit is guaranteed just from the loan payments (the city would reportedly have first dibs on Everton team revenue), not so much if it would rely on those “related developments,” which could be stuff that would happen with or without a new stadium. As is so often the case, it all comes down to what that comma means.
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman toured Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday, after which New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky said he was “confident” that “some games” would be played there while waiting for a new Belmont Park arena to be built, but that playing full seasons there would be “difficult.” So that would imply … some games in Nassau and some in Brooklyn, since the two arenas have the same owner? Some in Nassau and some at Madison Square Garden, which is set to help build the new arena? Some in Nassau and some on a frozen-over East River after that ice age that the American Museum of Natural History seems to think is imminent hits? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • A Unitarian minister writes in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer that if the Charlotte city council is going to spend money on a new Carolina Panthers stadium, it should be required to build affordable housing, too. My theology is shaky at best, so I’m not sure what Unitarianism has to say about a right canceling out a wrong.
  • Speaking of North Carolina, the Hurricanes got a new owner this week, and in his first few hours as head of the team, he didn’t demand a new arena or threaten to move the team without one. Though that may have more to do with the team’s sweetheart lease on its current arena that last through 2024, which had led former owner Peter Karmanos to say in 2015 that “we’d have to be idiots to move from here,” so give the new guy a few more hours, at least.
  • This. You’re welcome.

If Worcester won’t threaten to steal the PawSox, the Boston Globe will do it for them

The Rhode Island state senate is set to hold a hearing today (delayed from last week by a snowstorm) on whether to spend $38 million in state and city money on a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium, and here’s a really dumb headline from the Boston Globe about it:

Will Rhode Island subsidize a new PawSox stadium or let the team leave for Worcester?

All together now: There is zero indication that Worcester is offering a more lucrative stadium deal than Pawtucket, or even any deal at all. Even if they did hire Andy ZImbalist to help plan an offer, he just lives down the road in Northampton, so his $225 an hour fee won’t have to cover much driving time. “Or risk letting the team leave for Worcester” would have been somewhat more accurate, and Twitter allows 280 characters now, so I don’t honestly know what the thinking was here, other than “move threats, even idle ones, get clicks.”

Anyway, the state senate has been more on board with the stadium subsidy plan from the beginning, with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello more the holdout, so today’s hearing may not tell us much. About the bill’s likelihood of passage, anyway; it’s proving a great litmus test on which news outlets are excited about carrying ownership’s water for them.

 

Friday roundup: Panthers stadium rumors, Isles temporary arena plans, and Project Wolverine

It’s the first news roundup of 2018! Please remember to stop writing “2017” on all your stadium-subsidy checks.

  • The Carolina Panthers haven’t even been sold yet following owner Jerry Richardson’s resignation amid sexual harassment complaints, and already Charlotte news outlets are wondering where a new owner would put the new stadium that they would no doubt demand. The Panthers’ current stadium is 24 years old. Yes, human civilization is doomed.
  • The Rhode Island state senate has tweaked its Pawtucket Red Sox stadium proposal, giving the city of Pawtucket a flat $250,000-a-year cut of naming rights fees instead of 50% of whatever the team got, and clarifying that the team would pay overruns on construction costs, but not land acquisition costs. The PawSox owners released a statement calling this “encouraging,” while House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he has “sensed resistance with the public” to putting $38 million in public cash into the deal. It looks likely that this is still headed for another Senate-House standoff, in other words.
  • New Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter has a plan code-named Project Wolverine (for Jeter’s home state of Michigan, not the X-Man) that projects windfall profits by getting Fox to give the team a massive new TV deal and attendance to spike despite selling off all his best players. This has nothing to do with stadiums except to remind everyone that giving former owner Jeffrey Loria a new ballpark at taxpayer expense was a waste of close to a billion dollars, and getting Loria to sell to Jeter doesn’t seem to have raised hopes any of having management that isn’t delusional or focused solely on squeezing every last dollar of profit possible from a franchise that will forever be selling off any players as soon as they figure out how to play baseball. Miami might have been better off keeping its money and using it to buy residents plane tickets to go see a real baseball team.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says the league “wouldn’t rule out” the New York Islanders playing games temporarily at Nassau Coliseum while a new arena at Belmont Park is under construction, which makes sense, because why would they? Sure, the Coliseum now only holds 13,000 for hockey games after its renovation, but the Islanders’ current home of the Barclays Center only holds 15,795, and at least the Coliseum doesn’t have its ice all off-center. Plus, the Islanders aren’t drawing even 13,000 a game anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of fewer empty seats until the new arena is opened, which we still don’t know when that would be, do we? It’ll be interesting to see what kind of lease Coliseum owner Mikhail Prokhorov offers to the Islanders owners — on the one hand, they’re threatening to go off and build a new arena that will compete with his, but on the other, he pretty badly wants them out of the Barclays Center, so it’s anybody’s guess.

Friday roundup: Trump rescued stadium tax break, Sacramento MLS group needs more cash, more!

Happy interval between Hanukkah and Christmas! If anyone is out there reading this and not getting on a plane from somewhere to somewhere else — or is reading this while waiting for a plane from somewhere to somewhere else — enjoy your lightning-round news of the week:

  • San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Kevin Acee, who never met a stadium or arena deal he didn’t love to bits, says that several people are interested in building a new arena in San Diego, including the owners of the Padres and new Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joe Tsai. Acee adds, “Several people insisted in recent weeks the Nets will remain in Brooklyn long-term and there are no plans to ever move the team to San Diego,” which, given the relative size of the markets, is possibly the least surprising sentence ever written in the English language. Also, Acee includes zero attributed quotes in his story, and says nothing about how such an arena would be paid for, so take it with a large grain of salt for the moment.
  • Donald Trump made retaining the tax-exempt bond subsidy for sports stadiums in the tax bill “a priority,” according to one GOP aide. So when he tweeted in October, “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”, either he didn’t mean anyone to take him seriously just because he was the president of the United States speaking out on a matter of public policy, or more likely he just forgot to check with his funders before clicking Tweet.
  • “The Miami Open tennis tournament won permission to move to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, with the kickoff planned in 2019,” reports the Associated Press, which seems to be slightly confused about how a tennis match starts.
  • After the NBA used the promise of an All-Star Game for Cleveland in 2020 or 2021 if it approved publicly funded arena renovations for the Cavaliers, and the city approved $70 million worth, the league gave those games to Chicago and Indianapolis. Not that there’s really that much value in hosting an NBA All-Star Game, but still, HA ha, suckers.
  • Apparently the reason why Sacramento didn’t get an MLS expansion team along with Nashville this week is the league is worried the city’s ownership group doesn’t have enough cash for a $150 million expansion fee and a $250 million stadium. All they need is to find someone with deep pockets who thinks the best thing to do with their money is to invest it in a U.S. soccer franchise that will start off $400 million in the hole, and, well, good thing that P.T. Barnum movie is opening this week, that’s all I can say.
  • There’s a “Plan B” stadium proposal for the Pawtucket Red Sox, where instead of helping to fund the stadium directly, the state would instead give the city all income and sales taxes collected at the stadium and let the city use the money on construction costs. Rhode Island state senate president Dominick Ruggerio says he doesn’t “see that as being a viable alternative,” and plans to submit his own stadium-financing bill, which probably won’t pass the state house. This could go on for a while, until somebody remembers where they stored the money generating machine.
  • The Arena Football League is now down to four teams, in part because the Cleveland Gladiators had to suspend operations for the next two seasons thanks to renovations to the Cavaliers’ arena. This was reported in the Albany Times-Union, which has to care because Albany is supposed to be getting an AFL expansion team this year, and man, do I feel sorry for whoever got stuck with being the Times-Union beat reporter on this team, because this is looking like a sad year ahead for them.
  • Deadspin’s Drew Magary weighed in this week on arena and stadium subsidies and concluded that “Arenas Are Important And Football Stadiums Are Not,” according to his headline, but really he meant “if you’re going to waste money on something, at least arenas can be used more days of the year,” which, fair enough. Or as Magary puts it as only he can: “We are entering an age of horrific corruption, and so I have accepted the fact that living in a fraud-free America is a hilarious pipe dream. All I can do is hope for the least of all corruptions, and pray that a bare scrap of public good accidentally comes out of it. If you are some ambitious dickbag city councilman looking to make his name for himself, an arena should be your priority when it comes to getting worked over.”
  • NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke out again about the Calgary Flames arena situation, calling it “very frustrating” and saying that “they’ll hang out and hang on as long as they can and we’ll just have to deal with those things as they come up,” but insisting that “yes, Quebec City has a building, but nobody’s moving right now, we’re not expanding East.” Which either means the Flames owners really don’t want to threaten to move right now (or ever), since making overt move threats is usually Bettman’s job, or it means even Bettman is sick of trying to pretend that the Flames have a viable threat to go anywhere.

Rhode Island asks for split of PawSox naming rights, team threatens to leave town again

As Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello suggested back in October, the state legislature is revising its proposal for a new Pawtucket Red Sox stadium to cut down on the $38 million in taxpayer subsidies that were in the initial plan. The new provisions:

  • The team would split naming-rights revenue 50-50 with the city, instead of keeping it all itself.
  • The amount of stadium bonds would be increased from $71 million to $85 million (since the initial bond estimate failed to take into account things like paying the bond lawyers), with the team now paying off $41 million and the city and state $44 million.

This doesn’t exactly sound like a worse deal for the team — the extra $6 million in public cost would almost eat up any of the new naming-rights money at the going rates for such things — but I guess the PawSox owners were counting on the public getting stuck with all of those bond financing costs, because they declared themselves “concerned” over the new provisions:

The PawSox, with the overwhelming majority contribution of $45 million, the commitment of 30 years, and the responsibility of ballpark construction cost overruns, are taking the most significant and likely risks to ensure that this once-in-a-generation project comes to fruition for Rhode Island.

We hope we can keep the PawSox in Pawtucket, and we have offered unprecedented private funds to do so.

I am so trying this move the next time I engage in salary negotiations: “I’m taking the most significant risk here! I hope to remain with this company, and I am making an unprecedented offer to do so! Now, can I have $44 million, please?”

In very related news, the Worcester Business Journal interviewed a bunch of stadium experts (including me) about how much Worcester should offer to put up to lure the PawSox to that town, and came up with the conclusion “not much.” (Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson, who is pictured in a lovely photo tossing a baseball in the air, figured $5-10 million was a reasonable maximum.) The best line, though, goes to University of New Haven business professor Gil Fried, who after noting that the economic impact of a stadium is about the same as that of a Walmart, had this to say about stadium economic impact studies:

An economic study conducted for Pawtucket and the PawSox found a proposed $76-million stadium would pay for itself through new revenue…

Those studies – often paid for by officials wanting to justify building a stadium – have their detractors.

“Those things are a piece of junk,” said Fried.

You said it, pal.